A 65-year-old Franklin Lakes woman with a history of similar offenses "got to walk away with a slap on the wrist" after authorities accused her of severely damaging 14 German Shepherds in an illegal kennel that she operated from her home, an animal control investigator said Thursday.
Under a plea deal with prosecutors, 13 criminal charges of animal cruelty against Danielle Weitz were dropped "and the 14th [was] amended to a civil violation," said her attorney, Gregg D. Trautmann.
Weitz was "found liable of a single civil violation of neglecting a single dog of the fourteen in her care," Trautmann said.
"The only good thing that came out of [Thursday] is that, by tomorrow, these dogs will be in foster homes where they will be cared for and loved," said Carol Tyler of Tyco Animal Control, after Weitz agreed to surrender the dogs.
She also wasn't required to pay any restitution -- claiming she couldn't afford it -- and can continue to own animals, Tyler noted.
"Under the law, she should have had to pay the $22,000 in boarding fees and $4,000 in vet bills," she said. "Now the taxpayers of Franklin Lakes are going to have to pay that bill."
Weitz had the dogs removed from her Haddon Place home-turned-dog kennel and was served with the 14 animal cruelty complaints in June for "failure as the owner or as a person otherwise charged with the care of a living animal or creature to provide the living animal or creature with necessary care," Acting Bergen County Prosecutor Dennis Calo said at the time.
Borough officials also deemed the house uninhabitable.
"These poor animals had been suffering for years," Tyler said Thursday. "They were living in seven and eight inches of feces. They had sores on their feet. The cages were too small, so they walked hunched over.
"It took two- to three-hour baths to get each of them clean enough so we could check their skin," she added. "It took over a month of walking them daily to get them to stand up straight on their feet again.
"It's taken 72 days of walking, feeding and handling them so they can deal with people. It's the only touching or loving they've ever had."
The incident echoed a similar one from several years ago.
Tyler found the Weitzes using bedrooms for female Shepherds with newborns and an area for puppies in November 2010.
There were also "several cages on the ground floor and approximately two dozen cages in [the] basement," she wrote in a court filing. "At least fifteen of the cages were occupied by dogs, including at least two unneutered male stud dogs and about seven unneutered females available for breeding,."
A follow-up inspection found 18 adult dogs, the filing says.
Weitz contended that she was breeding, raising, and training dogs -- keeping the best for shows and selling the others to "a following" of customers. She also advertised online.
A judge cited her at the time for operating a kennel without a license and fined her $250 plus $30 in court costs. The judge also prohibited her or her husband from breeding dogs without a kennel license.
They objected and regular inspections were ordered.
The Weitzes took their case to a higher court and were denied by the state Appellate Division.
"As soon as the inspections stopped, she started all over again," Tyler said.
Then came the recent SPCA investigation and June raid.
"The SPCA officers did a great job," Tyler said. "Every animal was checked at the scene and then at the kennel.
"And now this? The judge didn't even prevent her from owning animals again," Tyler said. "What's the point of prosecuting people if they're not going to change their ways?"
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